A Naked "Site"
What would you do if you were going around the city to find a nude woman straddling the roof of a building? Would you consider it art or a crime? Earlier this month (November 2015), performance artist Poppy Jackson confused many by her four hour long performance, “Site,” that was part of the SPILL Festival of Performance in London. The goal of her performance, in her own words, was to claim “space in the city, in a way that presents the body as self-owned.” Jackson has shared that people who saw her performance in person described her as figurehead that one would see on a ship, giving off a sense of strength and solidarity like the architecture she sat upon. Already, one could see how her performance depicts strength and power in the female body. Jackson had also specifically chosen the building she sat on for a reason. She stayed upon the Toynbee in Whitechapel for its for its “radical social history.” Also, by performing outdoors, she wanted to reach as many people as possible, being a firm believer in public art for social and political purposes. A performance like this could be ignored, holding expectations that the police would arrest her, but her performance has instead spread like wildfire, showing up on social media and news everywhere. Why has a naked woman’s body received so much attention? In an interview, Jackson opens up on why she thinks her performance has drawn so much response. When a woman is usually presented in a nude fashion, it is done to sexualize and objectify the body or to commodify off of female sexuality. By using her body, she tackles these views, and she critiques “how and why shame is layered upon the female body.” Because Jackson presented her body in a form that celebrates her own body respectfully and dignifiedly, many were confused and unsure of how to react. However, because of our preconceived notions of showing a nude woman in public, there were many misogynistic comments as well. Jackson took these negative comments and turned them into optimism as she shared, “It's obviously received some misogynistic responses because of the tabloids' sensationalist take on the work, but these comments just go to prove why artwork presenting the female body from a woman's perspective is so important.” In a society that sexualizes the female body so much, I think art is vital in changing this notion. Art can transform the stigma surrounding nude female bodies and show that there are other ways to have appreciation for the female body. It is especially important for women to do this, as Jackson stressed, because only we, as women, can truly understand our own bodies which is necessary in communicating the need for change. Women taking the stigma surrounding their own naked bodies and changing it for themselves will always be more powerful than any other group attempting to do it. Recently, Stephen Colbert discussed the double-standards of censorship when showing nude art on his show. According to the station, Colbert was allowed to show two seconds of Michael D’angelo’s the David, but when it came to showing Modigliani’s painting of a nude female body, both the breasts and private area had to be censored. Why is it that a nude male body is more accepted as art than a nude female body? It’s reasons like this that makes me realize why Jackson’s performance “Site” is so important. Answering the question about why her performance is art, I think it is because this was not just simply sitting on a roof naked for no reason. She had given thought in how she would present herself, where she would present herself, and most importantly had a message to get across with her body. It is rather unfortunate that most have responded negatively to her performance or simply do not understand. It is even more unfortunate that most will most likely not read her interview that explains the importance of her performance. Honestly, if I had not read Jackson’s interview, I would respond similarly to most of the population. This is what is troublesome about works like Jackson’s; while there are brilliant intentions and purposes for these works, the general public does not always serve as the best audience for these kinds of works. Because of social media’s and news’ negative responses, most will not see the social importance in “Site.” However, while the initial responses were not all positive, I think Jackson’s work has at least began the process of re-sensitizing society’s view of naked female bodies in art. Sources: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/naked-performance-artist-london-354272 https://news.artnet.com/art-world/london-rooftop-naked-artist-speaks-357062